Review of Vance Palmer by Harry Heseltine
Harry Heseltine's study of Vance Palmer has a generosity of spirit which is characteristic of his writing and which displays one of the chief virtues of a critic: the willingness to draw attention principally to what is good in a writer's work. If this virtue is perhaps over exercised at times in this book, it is because Heseltine feels, quite rightly, that the kind of writing which Palmer and his contemporaries practised is in danger of being ignored or too lightly disparaged. But a good critic does not swing on the pendulum of fashion and this book is a necessary preliminary step towards a re-valuation of a whole period. It provides, for those who do not know it, an admirable introduction to Palmer's work and a valuable assessment of what he stood for as a man and a writer. And it shows clearly how that work as a whole contributes to an understanding of many aspects of Australian life during a long period of disturbances from the First World War to the fifties. There is a large measure of truth in Heseltine's claim that Palmer's fictional intentions were Balzacian, and though he falls short of his model as an artist, his novels and short stories do illuminate large areas of the society in which his life was spent. And if Heseltine over-estimates perhaps the quality of the poetic vision which unified his intentions, that is better than denying that he had any at all.
Please sign in to access this article and the rest of our archive.